The Budget Control Act of 2011, a.k.a “Sequestration” was an ill-conceived idea to try and force the 112th Congress into some sense of fiscal responsibility. The deficit in the early Obama years regularly topped $1 trillion per year, and after Republicans won the House in the 2010 midterms there was little agreement on how to control deficit spending. The Republican House and the Democrat Senate could not agree on spending reductions, and President Obama didn’t want any spending reductions at all. Barack Obama refused to address the deficit problem so, instead, he made a deal with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then- House Speaker John Boehner to try and eke-out some savings in the 33% of the Federal budget that is considered discretionary.
The primary driver of the federal deficit, entitlement spending, was left unaffected by the sequester, but other social programs and defense spending is included in the discretionary budget. The Sequester mandated $1.2 trillion in meaningless spending “reductions” that never truly materialized. Instead of reducing actual spending levels, the sequester merely slowed the growth of overall spending and perpetuated a game of budgetary chicken. Fifty percent of the spending reductions were targeted at defense spending, though defense spending accounts for only sixteen percent of overall federal spending. By playing chicken with military funding, our Navy is severely underfunded and our military readiness is undermined.
In order to rebuild American military and economic might, the sequester must be replaced by a real plan for entitlement reform, not budgetary inconsistency in defense spending. One of the primary roles and purposes of the federal government is to provide for national defense, and yet Washington is willing to cut defense spending in favor of paying for social programs that politicians believe will contribute to their career longevity. This is why I support term limits for every office, but that is a topic for another day. If Congress does not reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, not only will those programs fiscally fail, but they will drag the national economy down with them.
It is past time for Congress to move toward a public-private partnership on Medicaid and Medicare, to defray the direct costs borne by taxpayers, and to move toward a public- private option on Social Security that will ensure future generations a secure retirement. By taking these bold actions, Congress could cut overall federal spending, balance the budget, and begin fully funding our military to meet the symmetrical and asymmetrical threats facing us in the second and third decades of the twenty-first century.
Of course, all of these ideas that can right our fiscal ship and rebuild our military require some sense of courage and responsibility on the part of Congress. Given their utter failure to enact any meaningful legislation since winning total Republican control of Washington last year may make my recommendations seem like wishful thinking, but circumstances and mathematics will eventually make Congress think beyond the next election to the next generation. Or so we pray.